But star flyhalf Cronje out injured
Sunday Super Rugby premieres in South Africa today and the Southern Kings want to mark the occasion by pulling off a giant-killing act against the Lions at Ellis Park.
The Kings are aware of the huge challenge awaiting them in Johannesburg, but they have been emboldened by their recent resurgence.
Last week the Kings were bidding for a fourth straight Super Rugby win, but were ambushed by an efficient Brumbies outfit who ran out 19-10 winners.
There are no easy games in Super Rugby, but playing the Lions at Ellis Park will present the Kings with probably their toughest match of the season.
Last week the Lions thrashed the Bulls 51-14 and this time it will be the Kings who attempt to tame the runway Africa Conference 2 leaders.
The rampant Lions have won 11 of the 12 matches they have played this season, scoring 56 tries in the process.
Today the biggest challenge for the Kings will be to try to disrupt the fast tempo of the Lions which traps their opponents on the back foot and keeps the scoreboard ticking over.
The Lions haven’t been beaten in Super Rugby at Ellis Park since going down to the Hurricanes on April 30 last season.
However there was a major setback for the Kings on the eve of the clash when inspirational skipper Lionel Cronje had to pull out of the team because of a jaw injury.
It was discovered Cronje had a small crack in his jaw which was plated on Thursday.
This means prop Ross Geldenhuys will lead the team and Pieter-Steyn De Wet will slot in at flyhalf in Cronje’s place.
Fiery loose forward Andisa Ntsila will also be rested this weekend after sustaining a shoulder injury which will keep him out of action for a week.
But Chris Cloete will make a welcome return to the starting lineup after being sidelined with concussion for the Brumbies match.
“It is a blow to lose our captain Lionel after we only found out when he returned from the Springbok camp,” Kings head coach Deon Davids said.
“This is a great opportunity now for Pieter-Steyn de Wet, who will be getting his first start. We believe he is a capable player able to fill Lionel’s boots.
“It is also unfortunate that Andisa Ntsila sustained a shoulder injury, but this now gives us an opportunity to see Tyler Paul at No 8, with Stefan Willemse at blindside flank and Thembelani Bholi also getting an opportunity to make an impact from the bench.”
Davids had something to smile about following the return of dynamic Malcolm Jaer from a knee injury.
After last turning out for the Southern Kings while on tour in Australia, Jaer will start at fullback, where he replaces Chrysander Botha.
Lions head coach Johan Ackermann said his team were taking the challenge posed by the Kings very seriously.
“The Kings are going to be tough. They’ve beaten some top sides this year and they’re playing with tremendous confidence and self-belief.
“They have been right up there, so it’s going to be a big challenge. We’re going to have to make sure we’re in the right frame of mind.”
Robbie Coetzee gets a start for the Lions at hooker as part of the rotation system, while Faf de Klerk starts in the place of Ross Cronjé, who is attending his brother’s wedding this weekend.
Ruan Combrinck gets another start after coming into the team at the last minute last weekend
Southern Kings: Malcolm Jaer, Alshaun Bock, Berton Klaasen, Luzuko Vulindlu, Makazole Mapimpi, Pieter-Steyn de Wet, Louis Schreuder, Tyler Paul, Stefan Willemse, Chris Cloete, Wilhelm van der Sluys, Irne Herbst, Ross Geldenhuys (capt), Martin Bezuidenhout, Schalk van der Merwe. Replecements: Kurt Haupt, Dayan van der Westhuizen, Mzamo Majola, Lubabalo Mtyanda, Thembelani Bholi, Stefan Ungerer, Ntabeni Dukisa, Stokkies Hanekom.
Lions: Jacques van Rooyen, Robbie Coetzee, Ruan Dreyer, Andries Ferreira, Franco Mostert, Kwagga Smith, Ruan Ackermann, Warren Whiteley, Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies, Courtnall Skosan, Harold Vorster, Lionel Mapoe, Ruan Combrinck, Andries Coetzee. Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Johannes Jonker, Lourens Erasmus, Jaco Kriel, Dillon Smit, Jacques Nel, Anthony Volmink/Sylvian Mahuza Referee: Jaco Peyper.